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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Nov 2002
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    Pulverdrome: The Young Poisoner's Handbook is a guide worth keeping

    This month we unearth from the cabinet of curiousities a fondly-remembered comedy about a teen killer from Neasden

    * Andrew Pulver

    The annals of "lost" British films are littered with impressive debuts by directors whose careers failed to take off in the manner expected. The 1970s had Radio On, the 1980s had Wish You Were Here, and the 1990s had a well remembered number called The Young Poisoner's Handbook. Partly because I grew up just round the corner from the story's setting - the Welsh Harp stretch of the North Circular at Neasden - it's a film that's stayed with me, despite its grisly content. But in the machine-tooled environment of current British film-making, it also stands as an acidic reminder of the way things used to be.

    The Young Poisoner's Handbook is based on a real-life case: that of Graham Young, aka the Teacup Poisoner, who was responsible for the deaths of three people (his stepmother in 1962, and two workmates in 1971). But it's not a biopic; director Benjamin Ross felt the need to put a disclaimer at the start of the film, taking particular care to point out where the killer got hold of his lethal substances. Young, in reality, was obsessed with Nazism and wanted to go down in history as a notorious mass murderer; in Ross's film, he recasts Young as the ultimate science nerd, fantasising about creating an enormous diamond, and murdering people as part of a gigantic chemistry experiment.

    Be that as it may, the dramatic tone remains remarkable. It has the mannered acting of a Mike Leigh film (even casting Ruth Sheen, from High Hopes and Vera Drake, as the unfortunate stepmother), and melds it with a comic-strip camera style that wouldn't look out of place in an early Sam Raimi or Coen brothers' movie. It's much more sophisticated, cinematically speaking, than the kind of grim digital neo-realism that would most likely be the way a contemporary production would have tackled it. (Or they might have tried for a bit of Paranoid Park/Elephant style blank-affect kill action.)

    Whatever else, in the mid-90s they were prepared to be much more flip about murder than they are now: the original release VHS tape I watched it on had a trailer for the brilliantly nasty Nicole Kidman film To Die For, and the cover had a strident name-check for Shallow Grave. (There was also a promo for another serial killer flick - Michael Winterbottom's debut Butterfly Kiss, which in hindsight pointed the way things were going to go.) No doubt it was the baleful influence of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but the comedy-gore combination served crime films well until, I suspect, Andrew Dominik's Chopper took it all a bit too far in at the end of the decade.

    Ross, it's fair to say, has had a difficult time of it since, with numerous nearly-there and almost-but-not-quite projects falling by the wayside. (Arguably the most spectacular was the highwayman yarn Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild, which was due to shoot in 2000 with Harvey Keitel and Tobey Maguire.) His most noteworthy work has been for TV � RKO 281, about the making of Citizen Kane, and Poppy Shakespeare, the adaptation of Clare Allan's mental-illness novel. That cinema can't find room for him is our loss as much as his.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: UK
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    Aug 2008
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    Sorry, I meant Hugh O'Conor, who was the young Christy Brown in My Left Foot.

  3. #3
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    Apr 2009
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    Saw this film at the cinema, it was brilliant. Very dark. Is this the film that had something to do with pigs or was that another one from the same time with lots of death in it!?

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